There are letters, and then there are letters as interpreted by artistic individuals, like this one by actor, racecar driver, aesthete of the classic and now TAG Heuer brand ambassador and filmmaker Patrick Dempsey of Grey’s Anatomy fame.
Dempsey’s performance on the hit show as a neurosurgeon, which spanned ten years, earned him two Best Actor nominations at the Golden Globes, one at the Screen Actors Guild Awards and a life-long association with his character Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd. While his acting career flourished, so did his passion for auto-racing.
Since becoming involved in sports car-racing, the Enchanted star has participated in the Indianapolis and Daytona Beach events, formed his own racing team called Dempsey Racing and competed behind the wheel of performance cars ranging from a Mazda RX-8, to an Aston Martin Vantage, to a Porsche 911. The hobby-turned-career culminated in a glorious second place at the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans in the LM GTE-Am class. Today, as he takes a back seat to devote more time to his family and explore other horizons, Dempsey continues to be the owner and driving force behind his team.
With auto-racing in his blood, Dempsey has come to be a fan of TAG Heuer, known for its long history of precision timekeeping with auto-racing and automobiles since the turn of the 20th century, as well as founder Edouard Heuer’s great grandson and current honorary chairman, Jack Heuer, the man responsible for introducing iconic wrist chronographs such as the Carrera, Autavia, Monaco and Monza in the 1960s.
When the Autavia was slated for a revival in 2017, Dempsey took the opportunity to express his admiration for the living legend in the form of a “letter,” in conjunction with the premiere of the watch during Baselworld 2017. With his Letter To Jack, the TAG Heuer ambassador created a super sleek, black-and-white “visual poem” for Heuer, which, at the same time, marked his first foray into directing.
In the stylish short film, Dempsey can be seen driving a classic MGA, the same model that Heuer received as his first car from his father after becoming the first in the family to graduate college, which subsequently ignited his personal love of racing. On Dempsey’s wrist is the 55th Anniversary Special Edition Autavia, the latest reedition of the legendary driver’s chronograph designed by Heuer in 1962.
The film’s essence was captured to great effect by two-time Oscar and Cannes Festival Award-winning director of photography Janusz Kaminski whose credits include Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Complementing the visuals with a reflective atmosphere and a sense of timelessness is music is by Grammy-nominated jazz musician, Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah.
In expressing his appreciation for the opportunity, Dempsey said, “I thank TAG Heuer for giving me Carte Blanche on a project that was very dear to me. What began as an inkling of an idea unfolded naturally by itself as a message to Jack that couldn’t have been delivered any other way. I had the privilege to work with the best and we’re all extremely proud of the result.”
Moved by the cinematic work of art, Heuer responded, “I can’t tell you how touched I was when I saw the movie. Not just because it felt like it was me behind the wheel, but because it so marvelously goes backward and forward in time. It truly also captures what drives me and what drives TAG Heuer. Also, I’ve always been particularly proud of the Autavia. Thank you, Patrick, for this wonderful gift.”
Following the press conference, we caught up with Dempsey for a quick chat.
How do you, as a TAG Heuer ambassador, car-racer and filmmaker, relate to the brand’s campaign #dontcrackunderpressure, and what do you do in the face of challenge?
In order to stay calm and not crack, just breathe. It’s to remember to breathe, a simple thing. And then a lot of practice; you prepare yourself before you go to an event or race. I was just thinking about that this morning in relation to this opportunity to direct; I was very nervous and tried not to crack. It came very quickly and we had the idea about a couple of weeks ago, and immediately started working on the treatment, shooting and editing, right up to just before we got here. So that felt great and really empowering. Mindfulness is really important, too. Thoughts can either be your friends or enemies, and you have to allow them to come and go. I think that’s what the message is about, for me—to be able to watch your thoughts, and to be able to let them come and go, like a wave that comes and goes. Everything is constantly changing. That’s the one thing we can be sure of—change; and we must be able to go with change.
Did you do all the driving in the short film?
Yes, and it was fun because it was a continuous shot and we were going really fast and wanted to capture that sense of speed. Sometimes when you see people shooting, they are not necessarily capturing the suspense, the speed, even in slow motion. But I had a great crew. I felt like I was racing, but I was also acting and directing at the same time, so it was a wonderful combination.
It’s said that you grew up with Dyslexia. How did you deal with that?
There are proper tests and findings now that give us a better understanding of how the brain operates, indicating that everybody has a different style of learning. Back then, it wasn’t identified until much later, so it was very, very hard. I had to figure out other ways to learn. With technology, for example, you have spellcheck, you can dictate and get books on tape, so I figured out how to adapt. It’s always a challenge on one’s self-esteem, but you can get around it now with the help of technology. I’m certainly much more aware of it with my children to make sure that we’re on top of things, and with other children as well because kids would come up to me and talk to me about it, and I would tell them here’s what I’ve learned and that this is not a gauge of your intelligence, it’s just that everyone has a different way of learning.
Now that you’re taking a break from racing, what do you have in the pipeline?
Directing and producing is really going on. I had a long run on the show—10 years—and was racing simultaneously. It’s been nice just to be home, be able to recharge and get a better understanding of what I want to do now. After being on the podium at Le Mans, I realised that I’ve achieved my goals. Going forward, I would like to do some sprint car-racing. And I really love roller-racing and skiing. I would like to be able to combine all those and direct at the same time. I still have a racing team, and we’ll be running a full season with Porsche.
You are most remembered for playing McDreamy. Do you miss being on the show?
It still has a life of his own, because on channels like Netflix, people are just only discovering the character. You get younger people who are only following the show now, so it’s been an on-going thing. I’m really grateful for the experience, but there comes point where there’s no more discovery and growth, and that’s when you know it’s time to move on.
Motorsports and horology have long formed a close bond, with almost all watchmakers offering timepieces inspired by auto-racing as a standard collection. How does TAG Heuer stand out for you?
When I see the Heuer logo, I see the logo on the Matchbox toy cars I used to play with growing up. I knew that logo before I knew what TAG Heuer was. So I’ve always associated it with sports, and to have them as a sponsor of my racing team was a big achievement, and then getting to know Mr. Heuer, going to the factory, getting to know the employees and what they do; the time, the mental focus, etc, they put into making a watch, every day, it’s been remarkable. My relationship keeps growing with them and they keep giving me opportunities, like directing this short film. That’s why I feel really close to the brand; it feels like family, I feel that emotional connection. That’s why I’m wearing this watch (points to his Autavia); this is a vintage from 1966, the year I was born. This is a piece of history that you know you can interact with. It’s just so beautiful; it has a great patina.
You seem to appreciate vintage things a lot.
I love vintage things. It’s the patina, the feeling you have for something old. It has character and it’s nice to mix and match old and new. I love restoration of old homes; I’ve done a number of them and then let them go. You’re a caretaker. I like something that has history, a depth to it. When you look back and revisit it, you’ll find something new, and that goes for furniture, old cars, old shoes, jeans, etc, something that has a spirit that you want to bring back.
What do you think being a TAG Heuer ambassador is about, in the same league as Steven McQueen and Muhammad Ali?
It’s about creating a legacy. I think that’s why I was so emotional on the podium at Le Mans because that was a big achievement, with a lot of sacrifice, and then of course you have Le Mans the movie, starring McQueen, and both McQueen and Paul Newman had actually raced there and were on the podium. I’m in the process of creating my legacy.
THE RETURN OF AN ICON
Autavia Calibre Heuer 02 Automatic Chronograph 100M 42mm
A contraction of AUTomobile and AVIAtion, the Autavia was originally created in 1933 as the first dash counter for racing cars and aircrafts. In 1962, however, when Jack Heuer presented his first wrist sports chronograph, featuring its innovative signature – a rotating bezel, the name Autavia was reborn with this new, extensive range. The watch subsequently became a favourite among the best-known racing drivers of the 1960s and 1970s, including Jochen Rindt, Mario Andretti and Jo Siffert.
Today, the iconic model celebrates its 55th anniversary in the form of a neo-retro successor featuring updated functions and a proprietary movement. The new generation Autavia channels the spirit of the golden age of motor racing. This contemporary model is the result of an interactive campaign in 2016 called the Autavia Cup: from a choice of 16 vintage models, more than 50,000 web users voted for a reissue of the 1966 Autavia “Rindt” worn by the famous F1 driver Jochen Rindt. The idea was to revive a cherished watch in consultation with its admirers and to demonstrate TAG Heuer’s commitment to and respect for these true devotees and advisors par excellence.
More imposing than its ancestor — 42mm in diameter compared to 39 in the 1960s — with a 12-hour graduated bezel and a new Heuer-02 Calibre proprietary chronograph movement, the latest generation Autavia carries the DNA and aesthetic codes of the original, updated for today’s market. Its functions are tailored to modern requirements: a self-winding calibre, power reserve of 80 hours, date at 6 o’clock, water resistance to 100m. In black aluminium, the bidirectional notched bezel encircles a black dial with three white snailed counters in an optimal layout.
“Mushroom” push-pieces, a ridged crown, the Heuer logo and a distressed calfskin leather strap give the watch a vintage feel, while a contemporary twist is revealed in the addition of a date aperture and a sapphire case-back. Like the patina of a vintage watch, the luminescent coating has a beige tint, in harmony with the strap stitching. The studied neo-retro style encompasses the minute track subdivisions, employing the “1/3-2/3” ergonomic rule of the era created by Jack Heuer to enhance legibility and accuracy. For the purists, the watch comes in two strap options: a distressed brown calfskin leather strap with ecru stitching and a 1960s-inspired 7-row steel “beads of rice” bracelet.